12 August 2012

It's All About Answers

Even though it's been four years since I stopped writing for About.com (see Bye, Bye, About.com!), I still follow the company's roller coaster fortunes. A few days ago a piece which appeared on news.yahoo.com, Source: NYTimes to sell About to Answers for $270M, caught my attention.

The New York Times Co. has agreed to sell its troubled online information service, About.com, to rival Answers.com for $270 million, or two-thirds what the Times paid for it in 2005, according to a person familiar with the matter.

I learned a lot during my six-year stint and definitely got more out of the gig than I put into it. Don't misunderstand me -- I worked hard to create my content, but it was an all-around new experience for me. I was a software geek, not a media maven.

The company changed dramatically when the New York Times took over. I think it was around March or April of 2005. Where previously the 'Guides' were pretty much left alone to take care of their sites, the Times installed a layered hierarchy with editors watching closely over 50-60 Guides each. I knew all about corporate hierarchies from my previous stint as Corporate Information Systems Officer at the headquarters for a large multinational telecommunications company. I also knew that freewheeling About.com was in for trouble when the people who had been in positions of responsibility before the buyout started to leave in droves.

Almost immediately, I developed a dislike of contact with the new management. My first editor told me that his eyes glazed over when he read my piece about downloading game scores. My second editor -- I think it was an interim position while they they were searching for a full timer (the games and hobby channel was not the place to be for an ambitious editor) -- tried to create an affinity by telling me that her grandfather collected chess sets. I survived two reviews by the editors, but by the third time around they realized that (1) I was not a trained journalist, and (2) I had little interest in SEO (search engine optimization), which they trumpeted to the world as the core competence linking together the diverse topics. The boot came a few months later.

What happens to About.com next? I have no idea, but I'll continue to follow the company with interest.

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